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Aisha and Humanity

October 26th, 2010 No comments

I wish I’d never heard her name. From the moment I read about her story two years ago, all I’ve wanted to do is forget it. I initially hated the blogger from whom I first heard about it, wishing he’d made the point he wanted to make without using such a mind-numbingly horrific story to do so. But as the months went by I kept hearing about her, each time confronted with new and increasingly sickening details about the event. I was bound to hear about her at some point, and as long as her story is out there I’ll never be able to forget it. It’s already so firmly entrenched within the neural fibers of my brain that it can never come out—images of the scene as I picture it all-too-frequently flash before my mind with only the slightest hint of an association, dragging me down to depths that can take minutes, hours or even days to recover from.

I last heard the story on a recent podcast of Dan Carlin’s Common Sense, and while that was two nights ago I still find myself looking at the world through darkened lenses because of it. The only thing I can do is to write about it and hope to find some clarity through that.

If anyone reading this doesn’t know the story of Aisha, you might want to consider not reading this and sparing yourself the psychological/emotional torture that I’ve been enduring since the story was sprung upon me without warning. I’m writing this mostly for myself, and for anyone else who might be struggling with the same feelings and for whom a written account of another person’s thoughts might be helpful.

Almost everyone is aware of the practice of “honor killings” in which Muslim women are murdered for adultery. Nearly every week there’s another story in the news about a woman killed by her own family for being with another man. Sometimes no actual adultery is committed—the woman need only be alone in a room with a man who isn’t her husband to earn a death sentence. Occasionally the punishment will be as sickening as mutilation or as horrifying as being buried alive, as some young teenage girls recently were because they dared to flirt with boys their own age.

And yet nothing is worse than what happened to poor Aisha. Her story remains the single most horrifying thing I’ve ever heard. It’s the kind of thing that makes me look at humanity and almost wish that our species had never evolved to the point where we became capable of such things.

Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was a 13-year-old Somali girl who committed the ‘unforgivable crime’ of being gang-raped by three men and then reporting it to the local authorities in the Kiyasmu region, the al-Shabab militia. Under certain interpretations of Islam, letting oneself be raped is akin to adultery, and the punishment for adultery in Kiyasmu is death by stoning.

On October 27, 2008, Aisha was dragged before a crowd of over 1,000 spectators in a stadium at the southern port of Kiyasmu where she would be buried up to her neck in a hole in the ground while 50 men threw stones at her head until she died. While she was being dragged to her death, she reportedly shouted and pleaded with her executioners “No! I won’t go! Don’t kill me!” No mercy was shown to her.

During the execution, at least a few of the spectators showed some humanity and attempted to save her, but the militia opened fire and killed a boy who was a bystander. The rest of the crowd sat and watched.

At one point they pulled Aisha from the ground and nurses were instructed to determine whether or not she was still alive. They announced that she was, and she was put back in the hole for the stoning to continue. One can only hope that by this point her body was in such a state of shock that she could no longer feel anything. One can only hope.

Every time I hear this story I get the most sickening feeling in my gut, I feel like my insides are burning and that that my brain might tear itself apart in blind rage. I just want to find the al-Shabab militia members who sentenced Aisha to death and the men who stoned her and pummel each of them to death one by one. But that would accomplish nothing. Aisha is dead and no vengeance will bring her back. She had to undergo that experience and it will never be erased.

Part of the reason this disturbs me so much has to do with the way I look at reality. Time is a relative thing, so everything that happens exists permanently. Subjective experience is a part of the universe, so all experiences exist permanently as well. I also think that the nature of consciousness might be universal, in that the same Being—call it God, the Brahmam-Atman, or whatever it may be—is at the centre of the awareness of everyone and everything that is aware. What happens to one of us happens to all of us—we only perceive different events through different minds.

So whenever I hear about a tragedy, I imagine the experience from the point of view of the victims. I can usually find some kind of “at least” in the situation. As in, “at least he was strong enough to face death bravely,” or “at least she was old enough to accept her fate” but with children it’s a different story. The only “at least” I can find when something bad happens to children is “at least they were too young to understand what was happening.”

But Aisha was 13—old enough to understand death but far too young to make peace with it. She was also female—and in a patriarchal culture, no one would have bothered to help her cultivate the qualities of strength and bravery that would have been encouraged in male children.

No, Aisha was as vulnerable a victim as there can be. And to imagine the horror from the perspective of a 13-year-old girl of being buried up to your neck, desperately trying to claw your way out of the ground but unable to move an inch, lying there helpless as heavy stones fly at your face, each new crack in your skull producing an eternity of agony and bringing you one step closer to a death of which you are terrified, the pain and fear too overwhelming to comprehend.

This experience is a part of the universe and it always will be. And that almost makes me wish the universe never existed at all. Better to have eternal nothingness than a single moment such as that…

But what really makes this story so unbearable to me is the setting. This event happened in a stadium of a thousand people, and while at least a few were horrified enough to try and put a stop to it, the majority of spectators must have felt…what?

Were they enjoying it? Did most of them get some sick macabre sort of pleasure out of watching a poor defenseless girl cry out in horror as her life was ripped away from her? Did they actually feel that justice was being served—that this adulteress, despised by Allah, was getting what she deserved?

That’s the thought that keeps me up at night, because that is one of the great unsolvable questions of humanity at this stage in history. Many people would hear this story and blame it on Islam, but the problem goes much deeper than that. The practice of honor killings may have been integrated into some versions of Islam but it almost certainly pre-dates the religion, going all the way back to tribal existence. This is an element of the culture in that part of the world that goes unquestioned by what may be most of the people there, including the women. When asked whether they approve of the practice of honor killings, it might be the case that this cultural tradition is so firmly ingrained in their minds that a majority of them would insist on its moral correctness.

I once considered myself a moral relativist, but not anymore. Just because something is accepted in another culture does not make it right. There is a certain amount of happiness and suffering brought about by every action, and certain actions cause a degree of suffering so great that the scale could never be balanced. Aisha’s death was so horrible that no amount of satisfaction on the part of the executioners or spectators who felt that justice had been served could outweigh it. This is as black-and-white as it comes. No matter what culture or time period you’re talking about, this kind of thing is plain wrong.

And yet, what can any of us do about it? Some suggest that a Western military presence in the region serves this very purpose. If we can bring stable democracies to these areas in which women are given the power to help shape their societies, eventually these practices will end.

But I’m for leaving Iraq and Afghanistan, and whatever I may feel in my heart, I know in my mind that staying would cause more overall harm than good. As much as I would desperately like to change their culture, I consider it the height of arrogance to think ourselves capable of doing so. You can’t change thousands of years of tradition by rolling in with tanks and shooting everything that looks threatening. If centuries of colonialism taught us anything, it’s that more just societies can’t be imposed from above. They can only transform from within.

But how long before the women in these societies awaken enough to question their cultural traditions and feel strong enough to fight against them? How many more innocent girls are to be buried alive or stoned to death before such things are resting firmly in the trash-bin of history where they belong?

The only shred of positive thinking I can muster from Aisha’s story is that it may serve as some kind of wake-up call within the collective human consciousness. I never met this girl. I don’t even have any idea what she looked like. I never knew she existed until she no longer did. But if I can feel such powerful emotions over the manner in which she died, then others can too.

I said that I wished I’d never heard of her, and that may still be true. I didn’t want to have to face the reality that we live in such a world where an event like her death can happen, and that I’m a member of a species that is capable of doing such a thing. But perhaps more people need to be confronted with this reality. More people need to know about Aisha, to lose sleep over her, to picture her crying face sticking up from a hole in the ground whenever a random comment triggers the firing of those neurons.

Only by confronting the horror can we hope to one day be rid of it. It’s either that or wait until the planet rids itself of us. But for Aisha’s sake I have to hope it’s the former. If the human species wipes itself out, at least these kinds of horrors will stop but it will all have been for naught. If we can come together and forge a global society in which the murder of children is not tolerated by anyone, at least such deaths won’t have been in vain. And if there is any truth to the idea of immortal souls, I can only hope that Aisha’s will be able to see what we’ve done and to know that her suffering did not go unnoticed—that the cries she let out as death took her in that stadium did not fall on deaf ears.

One can only hope.

Blogramming Note

October 25th, 2010 No comments

I began working on a very difficult entry today, but I had to stop to take care of other business and now I have no desire to get back into it.  The subject matter calls for a great deal of care, and if I were to dive back in at this point I’m afraid I’d be rushing it.  I’ll finish that entry tomorrow.

After that, I’m going to take a brief blogging hiatus while I work on Revolution Earth, which needs reformatting.  I’ve been making myself write at least one entry a day, and afterwards I usually don’t want to spend any more time at the computer.  So rather than attempt to do both things I’m going to focus exclusively on the forum for awhile and only write blog entries if an issue compels me.

As I’m the only one demanding an entry every day, I hope I’ll be able to forgive me.

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Most Important Mid-Terms: Reformulation

October 24th, 2010 No comments

I usually don’t do this, but I want to revisit the point I made in yesterday’s post by laying it out as clearly and succinctly as I can. I think some of my message got lost in the verbosity, and I want this to be an argument that people can use on their friends or neighbors to get them to vote, whether they’re reasonable Republicans or frustrated Democrats.

This argument has three basic premises from which I draw the conclusion that the 2010 mid-terms have the potential to be the most important mid-term elections of all time.

1- Campaign finance is the most important issue in politics. The outcome of every policy debate in Washington is determined by whom the politicians are aiming to serve, and they typically serve the people who fund their campaigns.

2- The Citizens United decision made it possible for politicians to fund their entire campaigns by only soliciting donations from a handful of corporations or wealthy individuals. Because the Republican Party has a better track-record for serving corporations and the super-wealthy, most of the money is going to them.

3- President Obama made campaign finance the #1 issue for Democrats in this election. Presumably, the Democratic Party is worried enough about the prospect of becoming a permanent minority that they’ll have no choice but to push for campaign finance reform if they maintain enough political power to do so.

Conclusion: If the Democrats have a strong enough showing at the polls on November 2, the media-narrative is all set to go: Democrats were spared an electoral blowout due to widespread concern about powerful interests drowning out the voices of average citizens. They will not only have to act on campaign finance reform out of political necessity, but because they’ll have a mandate from the American people to do so.

Of course if the Democrats lose their majorities they won’t be able to do anything and the Republican Party will continue to greatly out-fundraise Democrats thanks to their rich friends, whose grip on the government will very quickly solidify.

We’re at a crossroads. Down one road lies plutocracy. Down the other lies a chance at regaining some of our former democracy. As of now, the direction we go is still up to the voters. That might not be the case in the next election.

The Most Important Mid-Term Election of All Time?

October 23rd, 2010 No comments

I never thought I’d say this about a mid-term election, but I think this might be the most important one we’ve ever had.

It could just as easily not have been—it could have been just another boring mid-term where a few seats change hands and no real clear message is sent—but something happened in these last few weeks that changes everything.

It began when the president of the United States started talking about the most important issue in American politics. I’m no big fan of Barack Obama—I usually only mention him to criticize him—but I have to give him credit for forcing this discussion. He could have chosen any issue, any theme, any message for the Democrats to hammer home in the weeks before the election but he chose the most important one: the question of how political campaigns are financed.

Of course, he didn’t really have much choice. With the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case, the floodgates have been opened up and corporate money is pouring into the Republican Party’s campaign coffers. Tens of millions of dollars are being raised from a mere handful of donors. A politician used to have to make hundreds of phone calls to potential donors and raise money through small donations from average people, but that’s no longer the case. Now that a single corporation or wealthy individual can basically bankroll an entire campaign, any politician willing to sell-out (that’s the vast majority) can potentially raise all the money he or she needs with a single phone call.

To his credit, Obama saw which way the winds were blowing and decided to take the politically risky move of drawing attention to it. Most people’s eyes glaze over in boredom at the very sound of the words “campaign finance” and the conventional wisdom in Washington was that you couldn’t move voters by talking about that kind of thing. The mainstream media outlets weren’t going to shine the spotlight on it because it’s not exactly ratings-gold and they’re all owned by giant corporations anyway, so the president had to use the bully pulpit to get people talking about it and thereby give the American people a chance to fight back before it’s too late.

After this upcoming election, it might be too late. That’s why I wonder if this could in fact be the most important mid-term election in American history.

If you haven’t already read the New York Times article about how large corporations are able to anonymously fund the Republican Party’s campaign efforts by funneling their money through the Chamber of Commerce, I hope you’ll read it carefully and explain to everyone you know what’s going on. Because the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is technically a not-for-profit entity (although it’s made up of the largest for-profit businesses in the country), they don’t have to disclose their donors. We know that companies like Goldman Sachs, Chevron Texaco, Dow Chemical, and Prudential Financial are giving millions to the Chamber, but these donations are not earmarked for specific campaign ads so they don’t have to account for supporting specific candidates. But they know what they’re getting when they donate to the Chamber—93% of the ads they run either support Republican candidates or criticize their Democratic opponents.

The most chilling fact of all is that back in 2008, even before Citizens United, nearly half of the $140 million in donations to the Chamber came from just 45 donors. 45 people virtually bankrolling the Republican Party. Thanks to the Supreme Court, this stands to get even worse.

If you are a Republican, you may simply think “Great! More money for my side!” But unless you’re also one of the wealthiest 2% of Americans, this is bad news for you too. The Republican Party isn’t going to be the party of conservative ideals—it’ll simply be the party of the super-rich and nothing else. You’ll get what you want insofar as their interests are aligned with conservative ideology (if by “conservative ideology” you mean total deregulation of Wall Street, complete privatization of everything, and no consumer protection whatsoever), but good luck getting your Republican representative to even bother opening your e-mails if he or she doesn’t need your support.

To a great degree, this was already the state of affairs in Washington and Citizens United did nothing more than make it worse. The sea change in political fund-raising has been underway for many decades and all the Supreme Court did was speed it up.

But this gives us an opportunity that we didn’t have before, and as reluctant as I am to give Obama credit for anything I have to give him credit for this. Because he decided to make this the #1 issue for Democrats this election and got the rest of the party to follow suit, should they maintain enough seats in the next Congress to be able to push for campaign finance reform, they’ll have a strong mandate to do so.

That’s right—we now have a reason to vote for Democrats. Of course many are already happy enough with the health care and financial legislation that was passed to want to reward Democrats for their efforts anyway, but those of us who are deeply disappointed in how compromised and ineffectual those bills turned out to be were left wondering why we should even bother going to the polls. Yes, the Republican alternative would be far worse, but perhaps the Democrats needed to lose badly in order to shake them out of their complacency and get them to really fight for the middle class the next time they take power.

But if things keep going the way they’re going, the Democrats may never take power again. The wealthiest people in the country have more than enough money to outspend millions of regular citizens, and it’s only going to get worse the longer the economy remains in the ditch. The super-wealthy know that a bad economy works to their advantage, so if the Republican Party takes control you should expect things to remain this way. If 45 people manage to accumulate more wealth and power than the other 300 million of us combined, we will essentially have a one-party system in America. A plutocracy.

Much has been said about the “enthusiasm gap” between liberals and conservatives this year, with the conventional wisdom being that all of the energy is on the right. But the left now has a reason to get fired up, perhaps even more of a reason now than in 2008.

If you live in a state or district in which the Democrat is being bombarded with negative ads funded by a handful of billionaires, you should vote for that candidate on that basis alone. Tell the exit-pollsters that campaign financing was your #1 concern, and help shape the narrative that the media needs to tell after this election: that the Democratic Party was spared an electoral blowout due to massive push-back against the flood of money coming into the electoral process to drown out ordinary voices.

If Barack Obama goes into the second half of his first term with a clear mandate to do something about this, we might actually see some real campaign finance reform. Even someone as eager to compromise with the established powers as Barack Obama can see that he can’t afford to placate them on this issue. His political life and the political lives of all his fellow Democrats are in jeopardy if things are allowed to continue down this path.

Campaign finance reform has always been the key issue lurking behind every other issue. The politicians work for those who pay them, and if they get paid by the corporations and not average citizens, they will serve the corporations and not average citizens. Perhaps with Citizen United, the corporations pushed their luck a little too far and prompted a backlash that will finally send the balance of power swinging back in our direction. If that does turn out to be the result—and it’s up to the voters to make sure it does—that would make this the most important mid-term election of all time.

Top Three Races I Care About

October 22nd, 2010 No comments

I don’t usually have much time on Fridays and today is no exception, so I’ll make this one of my shortest posts ever. These are the top three upcoming races in this years’ mid-term elections that I care about, in descending order:

1- Prop 19. in California. Please, please, legalize marijuana. Show the rest of the country that it won’t lead to the end of the world as we know it, and let them drop their jaws and gape at the slew of unforeseen positive effects it will have. Plant the idea in the minds of representatives from other states that ending this ridiculous prohibition is not only good for turning out the vote, but good policy as well. If the dominos start falling and the prohibition ends nationwide, we can expect weaker drug cartels, stronger economies, and thanks to a legal alternative to alcohol, fewer car accidents and cases of domestic violence.

2- Russ Feingold in Wisconsin. I don’t even remember the name of the guy he’s running against and I don’t want to give him any publicity here, but Feingold is one of the few true progressives in Washington and it would be a damned shame to see him go while a bunch of corporate democrats keep their seats. That would send exactly the wrong message to other democrats: that in order to keep your seat you’ve got to play ball with Big Money. If you live in Wisconsin, please vote for Feingold and send the right message: that you can stand up to Big Money and the people will have your back.

3- Alan Grayson in Florida. Like most liberals I have some issues with Grayson and the way he’s been running his campaign, but at the end of the day he’s one of the good guys. He refused to be bought by Big Money so they’re throwing everything they’ve got at him. If you happen to live in his district, please vote for Grayson and keep one of the strongest voices for average citizens in Washington.

Come on, voters. Help us out here.

End DADT in Two Easy Steps

October 21st, 2010 No comments

The White House successfully moved to have a federal appeals court judge grant a temporary freeze on the recent ruling of another judge which would have forced the military to stop enforcing the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. The Obamapologists are out in full force, saying that he had to appeal the ruling because the only way to make a repeal of the policy permanent would be to do it legislatively.

Not true. Here’s how Obama could end the policy once and for all in just two easy steps:

Step 1- Issue an executive order halting the implementation of DADT.

Step 2- Get re-elected.

If Obama were to use his position as commander-in-chief to insist that the military not discharge anyone for being gay under his watch, such an order could theoretically be reversed by the next president. But in the mean-time, you’d presumably have thousands of soldiers coming out and serving openly without fear of discharge.

By the time a republican has a chance to take over, assuming Obama is re-elected, gays will have been serving openly in the military for 6 years, and since these nonsense arguments about unit cohesion are nonsense, everyone would be able to see quite clearly that a ban on openly-gay soldiers was not in fact the only thing holding our military together.

More importantly, if you suddenly decide to start kicking them out again, you’d have to fire thousands of soldiers who have already been serving openly (without any problems) for years, and even some who were openly gay from the moment they enlisted. Even the most conservative military leaders wouldn’t want the kind of chaos that would ensue from a re-instatement of DADT and they would almost certainly uniformly oppose it. The next republican president would be in for quite a fight if he were to try and re-instate it, and with the majority of the country and all of the military leadership against him he would almost certainly not want to take up that fight.

In fact, we don’t even need 6 years. Just 2 years of openly gay soldiers serving in the military without causing any problems would be enough to make a potential re-instatement of the policy too messy to implement.

All Obama has to do is say the word and he’ll have brought about one of the most significant advancements of civil rights in recent history. But he won’t. And he wonders why people are “whining”.

Obama Still Doesn’t Get the Republicans

October 20th, 2010 No comments

A must-read article recently appeared in the New York Times magazine which provides a great deal of insight into the mindset of the Obama administration as it anticipates significant losses in the upcoming mid-term elections.

The article is eight pages long and covers a wide range of topics, but what struck me most was this passage at the end:

Obama expressed optimism to me that he could make common cause with Republicans after the midterm elections. “It may be that regardless of what happens after this election, they feel more responsible,” he said, “either because they didn’t do as well as they anticipated, and so the strategy of just saying no to everything and sitting on the sidelines and throwing bombs didn’t work for them, or they did reasonably well, in which case the American people are going to be looking to them to offer serious proposals and work with me in a serious way.”

*heavy sigh*

Really?

Really, Barack? You think the republicans are going to start acting responsibly after the elections? That they’re going to start working with you to pass bi-partisan legislation to improve the lives of the American people?

I would ask you if you’ve been paying any attention at all to the Republican Party over the last two years if I hadn’t just read eight pages indicating quite clearly that you have. So how is it that you think this same Republican Party that has opposed you at every turn to the point where they stop supporting legislation they’ve always favored just because you support it too is going to suddenly start working with you after the mid-terms?

Even if they wanted to, the Tea Party wouldn’t stand for it. Any compromise, any cooperation whatsoever will be met with cries of treason.

You might think that the obstructionist strategy might be abandoned if it results in a failure to take control of the House, but the conservative base these days is not results-oriented. They’d rather have a minority of ideologically pure conservatives than a majority of moderates willing to work with an evil Kenyan-socialist-Muslim-terrorist-sympathizer.

You might think that if the republicans do take control they’ll feel some sense of responsibility to make the economy better, but that’s an idiotic notion as well. Not only would they see their obstruct-everything strategy as having paid off and thus decide to double-down in preparation for 2012, but they’ll still have a vested interest in making sure the American people (except the very rich) are suffering financially because all of the blame can be laid at the feet of the Democratic president. Even now they blame the economic crisis not on Bush but on the democrats in congress. They never take responsibility for anything, and they sure as hell aren’t going to start if they win back the House.

No, if republicans take control of the House as everyone expects they will, we can expect an endless slew of investigations into bullshit accusations against democrats and quite possibly an effort to impeach Obama for whatever ridiculous charge they can come up with. They’ve found that political success on the right is as easy as making Obama into Public Enemy #1 and fighting him as forcefully as possible.

The rest of the article suggests that Obama plans to spend the next two years treading softly and not pushing for anything too big. Great. That’s just what we need. Now that we’ve dealt with this country’s massive, blood-spurting wounds by slapping a few band-aids on them, we can focus our attention on the little cuts and bruises and hope everyone just forgets about the missing limbs.

And while we’re at it, let’s invite the people responsible for chopping off those limbs and making sure the wounds stay open to help us out with the little things. Maybe they will. Obama seems to think so.

The Upcoming Tea Party Disillusionment

October 19th, 2010 No comments

Chris Weigant has a very interesting piece up at the Huffington Post entitled Tea Partiers Should Prepare for Disappointment in which he points out that once these Tea Party-backed candidates take office, they’ll have no choice but to disappoint their base in some way.

Serious-minded Republican Party stalwarts are going to be in an awfully tough position, because they are going to be absolutely terrified of the Tea Party movement. They’ve seen how easy it is for sitting Republican politicians (or up-and-coming traditional Republican candidates, for that matter) to be trounced in the primaries by fire-breathing Tea Partiers. Which means they’re going to live in fear of the same thing happening to them, if they don’t go along with the Tea Party agenda. Even though the numbers of Tea Party candidates who win office are likely to be small when compared to the Republican Party as a whole, they are going to be the ones setting the course for the party for the next few years.

Unlike the dynamic between the grassroots left and the establishment Democratic Party, the grassroots right is far more likely to have a real impact on the establishment Republican Party, pushing their agenda to the right in the way that the left has failed to push their party’s agenda significantly to the left.

So why is this bound to disappoint the Tea Partiers?

If the Tea Partiers had a different agenda, this might not be such a big problem, but at the core of the Tea Party is a giant contradiction that is going to have to be faced once the excitement of the election is over and done with. Stripped of all the "take our country back" rhetoric and patriotic garb, the Tea Party’s basic two tenets are mutually exclusive. The Tea Partiers say they stand for (1) lower taxes, and (2) cutting the deficit. But they’re going to have to realize (about the time that their first budget proposal comes back from the Congressional Budget Office with some numbers attached to it) that you simply can’t do both right now.

No matter what, republicans simply won’t be able to make good on their vows to both lower taxes and cut the deficit. If they lower taxes, the government gets less revenue which means the deficit goes up. The only way to compensate is to cut massive amounts of spending, but unless you take it from our biggest expenditure—defense, which most right-wingers would never accept—you’ll have to start looking to slash things that right-wingers would never actually want to give up in practice. Things like Social Security and Medicare can’t be touched without massive public resistance, so it’s likely these things won’t be touched. And it’s hard to imagine anyone successfully making the argument that we should cut things like food safety inspectors or air traffic control. Everyone hates Big Government but when confronted with the things government actually does, most people don’t want them to stop.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens when massive disillusionment sweeps through the Tea Party in the same way that disillusionment has taken hold among progressives. They’ll have to learn the lesson that no matter what rhetoric the politicians may offer about taking on the machine, once they get into office they almost always become a part of that machine.

It’s a shame they won’t hear us out long enough to recognize where we have common ground—how we are all interested in making the government work for the people rather than Big Money interests. They refuse to recognize how Big Money interests have already taken over their movement and twisted it to serve their own purposes. Hopefully once those candidates reveal themselves to be just as interested in selling out as everyone else, enough Tea Partiers will wake up and realize they’ve been duped.

But as long as they keep watching Fox News and listening to people like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, they never will. They’ll be convinced that no one ever said anything about reducing the deficit, and they’ll be made to forget that they ever thought the national debt was a problem. Impeaching Obama will be the only thing on their minds.

And when they fail to accomplish even that, hopefully enough of them will throw up their hands in defeat and declare the Tea Party officially over.

A Silver Lining in the Fund-Raising Cloud?

October 18th, 2010 No comments

One of the main reasons the system in Washington is so broken is that candidates from both parties are bought by major financial interests, so even when democrats push for reform they don’t push too hard because they don’t want to lose that campaign funding. Giant corporations usually favor republicans, but they pour money into both sides in order to cover their bases. The last thing they’d want is to have an entire political party not beholden to them.

And yet with the recent Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case allowing corporations to anonymously spend unlimited amounts of money on campaign ads, the game might actually be changing. Republican candidates are out-raising their Democratic opponents by incredibly wide margins this year, thanks almost exclusively to large donations filtered through groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or Karl Rove’s American Crossroads. It seems that the powerful interests are banking not only on a republican takeover but possibly a permanent republican majority. If they only have to buy one party, and the Citizens United decision allows them to pour as much money into that party as they like, why bother covering their bases? Just make sure democrats stop winning elections.

I hope this is their strategy, because I believe it smacks of blind hubris and overconfidence. If they stop buying Democratic candidates, then perhaps Democratic candidates will stop working for them. Why water-down reform if you’re not going to be rewarded financially for doing so? If private industry wants to make an enemy of you, why not make an enemy of them and actually stand up and fight them?

Imagine if Barack Obama had been told before the health care debate that neither he nor a single democrat would receive one penny in campaign donations from private health insurance companies. There would have been no reason for them not to push as hard as possible for a public option, because the only people opposed to it (other than the hordes of grossly misinformed right-wingers) were private insurance companies. Imagine if they’d been told that no money from Wall Street would go to fund Democratic campaigns. There would have been no reason to water-down financial reform to the point of impotence the way they did.

This has the potential to bring about a major sea-change in American politics whereby we have two distinct parties—one of Big Industry and the other of the Little Guy—rather than what we have now which is one party of Big Industry and the other of Big Industry and maybe some unions.

Of course with the economy the way it is, we may already be past the point where a party of the Little Guy can have any power anyway. With such a gross disparity of wealth, we may already be at the point where even millions of small donors wouldn’t be able to match the funds of just a handful of big ones. And as long as they can keep half of the regular people convinced that what’s good for Big Business is good for them (as Fox News does for the Tea Party), they might have free reign to really run the country like the plutocracy they’ve been morphing it into for decades.

That’s probably what they’re counting on. Here’s hoping they’re wrong.

Don’t Ask Obama, He Won’t Tell You

October 17th, 2010 No comments

For someone who claims to be strongly against the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, Barack Obama sure knows how to keep it in place. As the commander-in-chief, he could have issued an executive order from Day 1 telling the military to stop enforcing the policy until legislative action could be taken. And now that a federal judge has ruled that the policy is unconstitutional, he could simply tell the Justice Department not to appeal that decision.

He hasn’t done either of these things, because he still claims that the only way the policy can be repealed is through the senate. He insists that the policy will be removed and it will be removed “on his watch” but does anyone honestly expect the current U.S. Senate in which everything gets obstructed including previous efforts to repeal DADT to actually get the 60 votes necessary to overcome the filibuster? Trusting the senate to get it done is like trusting private health insurance companies to cover sick people out of the goodness of their hearts.

Obama clearly hates this issue. Just take a look at the first minute of this clip from this past week’s MTV town hall in which somebody asked him why he doesn’t use his executive power to end the policy. Pay attention to the first thing he says in response to her:

Obama: “First of all, I haven’t mentioned that I’m against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, I’ve said very clearly including in a State of the Union Address that I’m against Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and we’re gonna end this policy.”

You can hear the annoyance in his voice see it in his facial expression. It’s like he’s thinking “What more do you people want from me? Don’t you realize it’s two weeks before an election?”

And that’s really what’s going on here. Obama is a part of the machine and the machine believes that gay rights issues are bad electoral politics. Even though the majority of Americans consistently support the repeal, he’s somehow still afraid of the uproar from the right-wing noise machine that would result from a decision on his part to stop the implementation of the policy. As though the Tea Party crowd isn’t already clamoring to get to the polls and vote against him.

Obama, those guys are energized enough. Forget what your establishment-insider friends are telling you—what you need to do is energize the liberals. Give them a reason to get out and vote. And what better gift can you hand them but one of the most significant advancements of Civil Rights this country has seen in a generation? That’s change we would believe in.

But Obama isn’t about change. He’s about playing by the rules of a crooked system and treading ever-so-softly on every single issue in a pathetic attempt to ruffle as few feathers as possible.

Obama, you have an opportunity to just let the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy die by not appealing the court’s decision to strike it down. But you are appealing the decision, you are forcing gay soldiers to continue to live in fear of being discovered and booted out of the military, and you are putting their fate in the hands of a legislative body so broken and corrupt that the repeal of the policy could conceivably be blocked for years. If you want this done as you so forcefully insist you do, you have to do it yourself.

You’re the goddamn president, Barack. You are supposedly the leader of this country. So quit making excuses and fucking lead already.